In this article, we’re going to help you fully understand the pros and cons of both digital pianos and keyboards. Especially for beginners, or simply those new to piano playing in general, it can be a bit difficult to discern what exactly is the difference between a digital piano and a keyboard. Does one sound better than the other? Is one more mobile than the other? Does one feel better than the other? Does one offer more features or tends to be cheaper? Is one better for certain venues?
We’ll explore all of that, and hopefully by the conclusion of this article, you’ll have a better grasp of what instrument best fits your needs.
Below, check out our interactive table that compares and contrasts some of the better digital keyboards and pianos available on the market today. You can compare each instrument based on weight, price, number of keys, and overall rating.
$ = $500 or less | $$ = $500 – $1,000 | $$$ = $1,000 and up
|Yamaha P-115||88||26 lbs.||$$||4.7/5|
|Casio AP-250||88||87 lbs.||$$||4.6/5|
|Casio PX-160||88||24.2 lbs.||$||5.0/5|
|Casio PX-860||88||78.26 lbs.||$$$||4.9/5|
|Yamaha YDP-V240||88||108 lbs.||$$$||4.6/5|
|Yamaha P-45||88||25 lbs.||$||4.8/5|
|Williams Legato||88||18.7 lbs.||$||4.2/5|
Differences Between Digital Pianos and Keyboards?
First and foremost, one of the most important things to establish here is that there truly is a difference between a digital piano and a keyboard.
Some people have the incorrect assumption that they are basically the same thing, just with interchangeable names and descriptions. This could not be farther from the truth. As with any subject that has layers and depth embedded in its composition, so does the world of digital pianos and keyboards.
They are not the same thing, and making this assumption could lead to the purchase of a product that is less than what you desire and need.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best selling keyboards and pianos currently available on Amazon:
The Difference is in Purpose
To understand the difference between digital pianos and keyboards, you must first start at the top with the most important distinctions. The biggest difference between these two kinds of instruments revolves around what they are specifically designed to accomplish.
At its root, a digital piano is built to replicate the experience of real acoustic and grand pianos. Traditional pianos have always been highly expensive, typically impossibly to easy transport from one location to another, and built with a lot of intricate parts that require tuning.
They are certainly one of the most beloved instruments in the world. But, getting a traditional piano in one’s home is certainly not cheap, easy, or convenient.
As digital pianos were being developed, they were intended to bridge the gap between the concert hall and the bedroom practice session.
Digital pianos attempt to have all the same feel, look, and capability of traditional pianos, but with the added features of portability, digital effects, and computer connectivity.
In short, you can expect to get the a fairly well replicated sound and feel of a traditional piano (within reason and based on price), with the added features, options, and portability that the digital world provides.
Keyboards, on the other hand, are mostly built for the other end of the spectrum–the beginner to intermediate piano player (although there are many options for advanced players as well) looking to try out a new machine or test out a wide range of voices and tones.
Keyboards were most certainly not made to mimic real pianos. In fact, they were created to be a device that produces the sound of a piano–but comes without the hassle, maintenance, and is sometimes even more catered towards a producer of music rather than someone who wants to create it.
For this reason, keyboards many times are much lighter in weight, have tones numbering in the hundreds (sometimes thousands), and are stocked full of all kinds of bells and whistles. Many times, keyboards do not focus on creating the most realistic piano sound, but rather focus on implementing a large amount of electronically devised and synthesized sounds.
Before we dive more into this, I encourage you to watch the video below to get a visual idea of what a keyboard can offer, and why you may (or perhaps may not) want to consider buying one:
Differences Amongst Digital Pianos
As stated before, there are many distinctions that can be made within the larger umbrella of a category, and those categories can be broken down into subcategories of their own.
Not only can we discuss the differences between keyboards digital pianos, but we can also discuss the differences between certain types of keyboards, and the differences between certain types of digital pianos.
For example, when discussing digital pianos, there are standard digital pianos, upright digital pianos and stage pianos.
Standard digital pianos are sometimes referred to as “slabs.”
Upright or vertical pianos are usually built with a big cabinet, like a real upright piano, and mostly are fitted with the best hammer action key systems and tone generation engines. These pianos are sometimes built to be assembled by the user, and sometimes shipped from the manufacturer or music store. Uprights are probably the closest digital replications to real acoustic and pianos that you will find.
Stage pianos are built mostly to appeal to the needs of the performing or traveling musician (on tour or moving from gig to gig), as they are built specifically to withstand wear and tear, and also are engineered for live performance venues. Slabs usually have the engineering and technology of the high end upright and stage pianos, but do not have the external appearance and many times cater to the in home digital experience.
Differences Amongst Keyboards
There are also differences between keyboards. These differences are sometimes a bit wider apart and more distinguishable than those between digital pianos.
The most notable discrepancy would be the difference in the keyboard you might find from a music store and one you might find in a toy store or a big chain store.
Keyboards that come from the latter are usually overly simplistic and built with the very bare minimum of what an electric keyboard might need to function. They certainly don’t have any high-end technology and are geared towards maybe a child or a very new piano player, or even someone who just wants to play around and have fun.
The other end of the spectrum for keyboards contains machines that are built for the producer and the studio environment, loaded with all kinds of voices, tones, rhythms, and sound effects. These kinds of keyboards include those that are built as synthesizer-type machines and also MIDI controllers.
Digging Deeper into Slab Digital Pianos
It’s always great to take some of the better-known models in each of these categories and pit them against each other. Because of the different characteristics found within each one, sometimes it may seem like an unfair comparison, but at the end of the day it usually evens out.
Let’s begin with, as mentioned before, “slabs,” as one great example of a slab is the Yamaha P-105.
- Do note: You can read our review of the newer Yamaha P-115 here.
This is one of the most dependable and sought after digital pianos are the market today, and its able to do just about everything that is needed of the general piano player. It is an 88 weighted key digital piano supported by Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) key action, which is a very good action. The sound is supported by the Pure CF sample engine, which features real authentic samples from world-renowned Yamaha CF concert grand pianos.
The piano is finished off with 128 note polyphony and USB to HOST connectivity, along with an eye catching price of about $600 at many online stores.
In my opinion, a piano comparable to this would be the Casio Privia PX-150, which is an absolutely wonderful option for its price range. It also has 128 notes of polyphony, a full 88 key range, and a weighted scaled hammer action to support those keys.
- Do note: You can read our review of the newer Casio PX-160 here.
There are 18 built in tones which work hand in hand with the Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator (AiR) sound source, along with a new simulator which includes hammer response, damper resonance, string resonance, and a actual piano lid simulator.
Surprisingly, this piano comes in less than the P-105 at around $500 at many online stores.
Examining Upright Digital Pianos
The next category we’ll take a look at is the upright digital piano, as there are a lot of good options here as well.
We can start with the Yamaha ARIUS YDP-V240. This is one of the best models on the market because of its design, build, and hardware.
This particular upright has a full range of 88 keys supported by the Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) key action, along with around 500 voices, tones, rhythms and preset songs.
This model has the extra feature of a 6-track recording system, which allows the user to record compositions and upload them to other sources using the USB connectivity feature. It’s important to know, however, that this is more of a high-end option and will go for around $2000 online.
- For more on ARIUS digital pianos, please read: What’s the Best Yamaha Arius Digital Piano?
Another good upright is the Casio PX-850, an awesome option to compare with the V240. It has an amazing amount of 256 notes of polyphony, the most I believe you can have on any machine, along with a full range of 88 keys supported by Casio’s Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action key system. There are 18 tones housed on this model, with the AiR sound source along with standard USB MIDI capability. The PX-850 isn’t cheap, but it comes in cheaper than the V240. You should expect to be able to purchase the PX-850 for about $1100 online.
- Do note: You can read our review of the newer Casio PX-860 here.
Looking at Digital Stage Pianos
There are so many great stage pianos, too. One example is the Roland RD-300NX, which features 88 keys, Roland’s Ivory Feel G keyboard action with escapement, and the proprietary SuperNATURAL piano sound engine.
The RD-300NX features a modern user interface with a One Touch Piano feature and a Graphic LCD screen, something many pianos do not have.
This model’s voice and tone selection numbers run into the hundreds, with an Innovative Sound Focus Feature that helps equalize and mix the sound coming from the machine without you having to press a button.
The RD-300NX goes for about $1300 online.
Another great option you might want to consider would be the Yamaha CP33 stage piano, which has full-length 88 weighted keys supported by the Graded Hammer Effect (GHE) key action, which is a little bit different from GHS. This piano features some of Yamaha’s older technology, with the Advanced Wave Memory (AWM) tone generation system, which has since been replaced on higher end models with Pure CF and Real Grand Expression (RGE).
It also has a selection of 28 voices and an added attribute of a slimmed down body design that makes it lighter and easier to transport. This piano goes for a cool $1000 on many online retailers.
Comparing and Contrasting Keyboards
There certainly is no shortage of keyboards to make a good comparison. And the Yamaha YPG-235 is an awesome option to start with.
This particular keyboard comes with 76 keys (not your typical 88), which is more than enough for most keyboard users. It does not have a graded hammer action system, but is supported by a Graded Soft Touch (GST) keyboard, which is kind of a spring system.
This piano has a nice backlit LCD panel, which you will find on a lot of keyboards and not on digital pianos.
It also comes with almost 500 voices that use the AWM system.
The most shocking thing about this piano? The fact that the price is under $250 online.
A very different type of keyboard is the M-Audio Axiom 49 MIDI controller, which is a dependable MIDI controller you can use in a studio environment or with other applications to control MIDI input. It has semi-weighted velocity sensitive keys, and is able to connect to most software as it is both PC and Mac Compatible. You can easily get this controller online for around $300.
Remember, the M-Audio is aimed more at someone who that is into producing music and wants a lot of options and connectivity features.
- You can read our following article about MIDI Keyboards here: What’s the Best MIDI Controller?
The separation between a digital piano and a keyboard becomes more and more clear once you are introduced to more models on both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes the separation between the two can be very minuscule, and sometimes it can be quite vast.
It is always best to do as much research as possible concerning every model to determine which one is the best choice for you. But hopefully, you’ve come away from this article with a better understanding of what the difference is between these two similar but very different instrument types.
You Also Might Really Like Reading:
- What’s the Best Digital Piano for the Money?
- What Digital Piano Has the Best Key Action?
- Yamaha DGX-660 review
- Yamaha PSR-E253
- What’s the Best Keyboard for Beginners?
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